The Remote Worker’s Guide To Going Back To The Office

You’ve been working in old T-shirts and jeans. Now it’s time to report back to the office. Here’s how to cope.

The Remote Worker’s Guide To Going Back To The Office
[Photo: Wokandapix via Pixabay]

Last month, IBM started scaling back its remote work program, ordering telecommuters in various company divisions to report to work at the company’s regional offices. Long a champion of remote work, IBM apparently reversed course and gave some workers the option to relocate to a regional office or leave the company.


Commuting back and forth to the office after working from home is a big transition, says Jennifer Pristera, senior vice president of human resources at Garden City Group, a legal administrative services group that works with remote employees.

Related: IBM’s Remote Work Reversal Is A Losing Battle Against The New Norm

“From dress, to just interacting with people and actually having to get up and talk to people face-to-face as opposed to through emails and instant messaging and phone calls. I think that is a big shift for people who are used to working from home,” she says.

If you’re heading back to the office after working from home, here are some factors to keep in mind as you adjust to your new normal.

Make The Psychological Shift

Whether you’re going back to the office because your employer requires you to do so or you have a new job and haven’t negotiated remote work benefits, embrace it, says Mark McNeilly, a professor of marketing practice with the University Of North Carolina’s online and full-time MBA programs. He says the rationale behind the decision is that the nature of work has shifted to having more fast changes being done by groups, and the goal of having workers in-house is to facilitate productivity, creativity, and impact. And while you may not agree, railing against your new work environment isn’t going to help you succeed.


Instead, focus on the opportunities that will come with being in the office, he says. You’ll likely have more ready access to colleagues and supervisors. You may have access to better equipment to do your job, and more opportunities to socialize with colleagues.

“It’s your chance to make positive impressions with executives by giving presentations, being at team meetings, hall conversations. It also provides a good chance to find an on-site mentor who’s going to help advance your career,” he says.

Take Inventory Of The Impact

Think through the changes that will come with office life and how big an impact they’ll have on you. Will you need a new wardrobe or does the office’s business casual dress code align with the clothing you already have? How long will your commute be? What changes will you need to make to your daily routines?

Sheri Wachenheim, account director at The Marcus Group, took a job with the public relations firm that requires she work in the office most of the time; her commute can be 90 minutes each way, depending on traffic. That has required that she be vigilant about how she schedules her time. She works late on the days she’s in the office, which means she leaves when traffic has eased. That gives her more flexibility to fit in personal tasks on the days she works from home, she says. Take into consideration new costs, which range from commuting expenses to wardrobe—and even more lunches out with friends at the office.

Prepare To Hit The Ground Running

Much like starting a new job, you’re going to feel less overwhelmed with your new work situation if you are well-prepared, Pristera says. Work with your supervisor to arrange the equipment and any training you’ll need. If possible visit the office and take stock of your workspace before you return full time. This will allow you to ensure you have everything you need to do the job.


A dry run can also help you determine how much time you’ll need to allow for your commute, as well as whether you’ll need additional time to get children off to school or take care of other responsibilities before work, Wachenheim says.

Then, when you do come back, make a great impression right off the bat, McNeilly advises. “Show up early, work hard when you’re there,” he says. Coming in resentful and with a bad attitude can hurt your relationships with coworkers and your supervisor. It’s better to set the right tone from the beginning, he says.

Plan To Reduce Home/Work Friction

If you’ve been fielding most of the household tasks because your work-from-home schedule was more flexible than your partner’s, adjusting to the new normal may require some effort, McNeilly says. Create a plan to ensure that essential tasks are completed. And you may need to hire some help—a house cleaning or laundry service, babysitter, or dog walker—to help you manage until you hit your new stride.

Make The Most Of It

Now that you’re there, McNeilly advises seeking out opportunities to make the most of the situation. If your office permits doing so, customize your workspace to make it comfortable. Bring in photographs and a favorite mug, for example. That sounds trivial, but it will make you happier in your environment.

By taking the transition seriously, having a plan to make it go effectively, and adopting your new work environment with a positive attitude, McNeilly says you actually give yourself another important advantage: Goodwill.


“When you’ve built up some capital with your boss and the executive team, you can negotiate some more personal and remote time carefully, and then you can position that to be acceptable and to fitting in with the goals of the company,” he says.

About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites